Standard for unmanned systems..

One such set of standards is specified in the Navy’s Unmanned Surface Vehicle Master Plan: the Joint Architecture for Unmanned Systems which specifies data formats and communication methods for unmanned systems. JAUS describes a language to be used for communications between components developed and manufactured by different vendors.

The various USVs and their communications, navigation, command and control, weapons and other systems, each presumably developed and manufactured by disparate companies, would need to include a JAUS interface to allow them to communicate with one another. “This means, at the most basic level, that regardless of the communications method, the bytes going across the airwaves are all based on the JAUS messaging protocol,” said Carl Evans, a senior engineer at Applied Perception, a developer of unmanned systems.

Although work began on JAUS in 1994, the Defense Department did not begin to push for its inclusion in unmanned vehicle projects until 2006. Even then, as the Army scrambled to send unmanned ground systems to Iraq and Afghanistan, the service was still buying systems that were commercial, proprietary, noninteroperable and not compliant with JAUS.

“We are now seeing JAUS compliance being increasingly specified in requests for proposals for new Defense Department contracts,” Evans said.

Building JAUS standards into the family of USVs could help the Navy achieve some of the mission goals articulated in the master plan, said Evans, who is chairman of a JAUS working group subcommittee. The JAUS mission-planning task group is developing protocols for describing a mission in a general way and allowing this to be converted into an unmanned vehicle’s internal language, he said.

JAUS standards are also designed around plug-and-play weapons and payloads. An unmanned system equipped with a JAUS-compliant standard communications interface can accommodate video, audio and data communications capabilities, Evans said.

JAUS also accommodates the control of disparate weapons systems on unmanned vehicles from a single operator, Evans said. “It is difficult to control systems if you have to use two or more operator control units. We have demonstrated in JAUS experiments that a single operator can control as many as four different systems from separate vendors with a single control unit.”

But JAUS does not provide a complete solution to interoperability. Although the JAUS language — which Evans said he regards as most important — has been developed to an advanced state of maturity, some messaging protocol issues remain. For example, different JAUS-compliant manufacturers persist in using different rates and orders of messaging. Some transmit messages individually, and others transmit them in a batch for certain functions. Those issues are still being hashed out in JAUS industry group committees.

All of which leads Evans to conclude that “JAUS is not the perfect answer to interoperability. It’s not the best or the worst solution. It’s just [a] solution.

“The whole push to interoperability was sponsored by DOD to reduce its costs,” he said. “The biggest selling point for JAUS is that it allows for very quick capability creation and implementation. We have demonstrated that you can easily adapt this open technology to new unmanned systems.”

About the Author

Peter Buxbaum is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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